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May 12, 2009

Part Two: Can Metal-Cored Wire Improve Your Productivity?


Part One of our series on metal-cored wire introduced some basic information on the technology, its general characteristics and benefits, operating parameters and the applications in which it excels. More importantly, the article also explained how these attributes could improve your welding productivity by eliminating unnecessary pre- or post-weld activities and labor.

Now that you have these basics, the next step is to determine if your welding operation is a good candidate for metal-cored wire. And if so, how can you justify this technology to the decision makers in your company?

Is There Potential?

As you may recall, metal-cored wire’s greatest potential for productivity improvements lies outside of the weld cell, in the pre- and post-weld areas of the operation. In these areas, the wire frequently eliminates costly, time-consuming, and often unnecessary labor for activities that do not contribute directly to the successful throughput of the welding operation. Often called compensation or non-valued activities, these tasks include, but are not limited to: grinding, sandblasting, removing weld spatter and/or reworking defective parts due to lack of fusion or undercut.

Assess all activities in the pre- and post-weld areas of your
welding operation to determine if you have a baseline for
improving your productivity.

To determine whether metal-cored wire can increase your productivity, first assess the pre- and post-weld areas in your welding operation to establish whether you have a solid baseline for improvement. Consider all the activities and the associated labor occurring in these areas, along with the impact that they have on your overall workflow. A trusted welding distributor or equipment supplier can usually help.

When thinking of pre-weld activities, ask yourself: do you grind or sandblast in your pre-weld area? Do you apply anti spatter prior to welding? If so, are these activities are absolutely necessary or are they are compensating for the current welding wire you are using in your operation? You also need to determine whether these activities are causing bottlenecks in the upstream portion of your welding operation. If so, quantify how much time you are using for these grinding or other such pre-weld activities, along with the amount and cost of the labor necessary to complete them. Also factor in the cost and time for maintaining, repairing or replacing grinding or sandblasting equipment. You may also want to consider the health and safety aspects of these tasks, especially in terms of operator fatigue and repetitive injuries. Likewise, if you use anti-spatter in your welding operation, calculate the cost for purchasing the solution, the labor necessary for applying it, and the time and labor needed to clean the area (anti-spatter is notoriously messy and frequently accumulates on machinery).

Next, look at the post-weld area of your welding operation. Quantify the overhead for activities that occur here, such as grinding or scraping spatter.  Be certain to include the labor and equipment costs, along with the time it takes to complete each activity per part. If you have problems with undercut, lack of fusion, leaks in welded tanks or other weld discontinuities that require the part to be reworked, quantify the amount of labor and time necessary to do so.  Most importantly, calculate the material and labor cost for any parts that must be completely rejected, and therefore, scrapped due to irreparable quality issues.  

Also consider the activities that occur in the actual weld cell. Although there is less opportunity for productivity increases here, there is still important information you need to capture.  For example, you should measure the volume of parts welded per shift, the amount of time (arc-on time) required to produce each part and the welding parameters, such as the wire feed speed, amperage, voltage and shielding gas flow rate your welding operators are using for each part. This information can help you calculate the overall impact of switching to metal cored wire.

Once you’ve gathered all of the information on the pre- and post-weld areas of your welding operation, and you’ve quantified the arc-on time and other information from your welding cell, you can establish a baseline for improvement and begin to determine if your welding operation is a good candidate for metal-cored wire.

Based on the data you collected, ask yourself these questions:

1.    Is our volume of pre- and post-weld activities higher than we want?
2.    Do we have high labor costs for these areas?
3.    Do we have quality issues that result in a high volume of rework?
4.    Do we reject a high volume of parts?
5.    Is our productivity lower than we’d like?

If you answer yes, then you may very well be a good candidate for metal-cored wire. Next, you’ll need to consider how to justify the change from your current welding wire.

What is the Payback?
Often metal-cored wire will cost more than other filler metals, particularly solid wire. The exception to this statement is certain high strength-low alloy metal-cored wires, which frequently have a lower unit price than their solid wire equivalent. Regardless, you still need to justify the additional upfront expense and/or the process change to the decision makers in your company the same way you would a capital expenditure. Specifically, you should show exactly how changing to metal-cored wire can increase productivity and profitability by resolving any inefficiencies in your current welding operation. These could include low productivity, high labor costs, a high volume of rework, or other factors affecting the quality of products.

So, how do you determine whether there is a payback and justify the change to metal-cored wire?

This graph shows a real-life example of a solid and metal-cored wire
assessment. Notice the greatest productivity potential in the pre- and
post-weld areas.

First, show how the data collected during the pre-weld assessment of your welding operation can translate into a better use of labor—or more importantly, labor that adds to greater productivity. For example, if your operation contains a significant amount of pre-weld activities, show your decision makers how metal-cored wire could reduce labor by eliminating sandblasting, anti-spatter application or grinding; calculate the potential time and cost savings for them. Also, show how much of that labor could be reallocated elsewhere in the welding operation, particularly to the weld cell, to produce a higher volume of parts. Calculate the potential increase in parts production that you anticipate through this reallocation of labor. Likewise, consider how much labor you could move from the post-weld area of the welding operation to the welding cell if you were able to reduce your volume of rework and/or parts rejection with metal-cored wire.

Determine again what the potential increase in volume would be—both in terms of parts and overall profit. Note: when you place more welding operators in the weld cell, you’ll also need to assess your current smoke exhaust system to ensure it can safely accommodate the additional activity. Include any data on this matter in your evaluation.

Lastly, show the possible improvements that could occur in the weld cell by converting to metal-cored wire. As you may recall from part one of this series, metal-cored wire offers higher deposition rates and faster travel speeds than many other products, bringing with it the possibility of completing the welding process faster—and increasing overall productivity. Here, calculate the potential increase in parts production and share it with your company’s decision makers.

A trusted welding distributor or filler metal manufacturer can help with each of these aforementioned calculations.

What’s Next?
If the assessment of your welding operation shows that you have a solid baseline for improving productivity and you can show the decision makers in your company that potential, you’re ready to take the next step: conducting a metal-cored wire trial.  Your welding distributor or filler metal manufacturer can help implement metal-cored wire in a portion of your operation, as well as offer technical support so the technology yields the best results for your application. These individuals will also provide a comprehensive comparison of the trial results to your current welding process, and help you convert completely to the technology if the trial (and your decision makers) shows that the metal-cored wire can benefit your entire welding operation.

Remember, it may take some time to complete this entire process, but it is absolutely crucial to ensuring metal-cored wire can improve your productivity in real life, not just in theory.